Opinion: Internet censorship of conservatives is more misconception than fact

By Katlyn Batts

Conservatives have basically fought bias in the mainstream media since it was invented. Now, with more Americans getting their news and content on the internet, conservatives are understandably on the lookout for similar anti-conservative bias online.

So far, recent worries are misplaced. Several recent accusations that internet companies are deliberately censoring conservatives have been debunked — and distract from the real bias in mainstream media.

One good example is the dispute between PragerU, a conservative non-profit founded by radio host Dennis Prager, and YouTube. Last year, PragerU sued YouTube, claiming that the company was demonetizing – which means restricting advertising, and thereby ad revenues – certain PragerU videos because of their conservative viewpoints.

In actuality, several of PragerU’s videos involving sensitive subject matter were excluded from being shown in “restricted mode,” which is an optional mode that any YouTube user can enable on their account to protect children from viewing mature content. Only a small subset of YouTube users enable restricted mode, but PragerU felt their videos were removed from the mode based on their political leanings and were being unfairly censored.

However, as YouTube’s Alice Wu illustrated in her declaration for the case, ideology was not a factor in PragerU’s case. In fact, many pages with a liberal political leaning, like The Young Turks, the Daily Show and Vox, had significantly more videos excluded from restricted mode than PragerU. And that’s why the case was initially dismissed earlier this year.

This is one of many cases where conservatives initially fear they are being censored online but subsequently found that no bias exists.

For example, earlier this year, several prominent Republicans expressed concerns that they were being “shadowbanned” by Twitter when their names didn’t auto-fill into the site’s search bar when users started typing them. It may have seemed like political targeting and censorship at first, but the facts showed it was a technical glitch in a new feature rather than discrimination.

What caused these accounts to not automatically appear in search bars was a feature that Twitter recently created to reduce noise from bot accounts. Unfortunately, many bots post in the replies section of certain public figure’s accounts more often, which is what flagged the anti-bot program against RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s and other accounts.

In his sworn testimony before Congress discussing the issue, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said, “Our usage of the behavioral signals within search was causing this to happen. [. . .] Once identified, this issue was promptly resolved within 24 hours.” In that same testimony, he also said: “Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions, whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules.”

Google has also faced recent claims of potential censorship of conservative news. Even President Trump tweeted that Google only shows news stories that are negatively slanted against him in their search feed. But that is because Google is an aggregator of what other people publish, not a publisher itself.

Over 90 percent of news stories written about the President are negative, according to a recent study. Google’s search algorithms are ideologically neutral, but when 90 percent of media content is negative, it will inevitably have an impact on the search results. Google’s search engine is designed to prioritize larger, more prominent news sources, so the alleged “bias” is simply a reflection of mainstream media’s lopsided coverage. Major right-leaning news sources, such as Fox News, are featured on Google search — but there are simply less of them compared to all the liberal media.

Conservatives are used to having the deck stacked against us in the media, and understandably wary that liberal bias might spread to major internet platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter. But so far, the need for concern appears to be misplaced.

Katlyn Batts is the Chairwoman of the Wingate University College Republicans and an employee of the Jesse Helms Center